Review: Coyotes #2-#3
After an action-packed debut issue, Coyotes #2-#3 had a lot to live up to. It is a dramatic book with intriguing themes of feminism and patriarchy told at a visceral, breakneck pace. Would the series improve? Stumble? The answer is mostly improvement with one significant stumble.
As a reminder, Coyotes is an action-horror-thriller-urban fantasy series written by Sean Lewis, drawn, colored, and lettered by Caitlin Yarksy, and published by Image Comics. It tells the story of Analia, a teenage girl orphaned by a ravenous pack of coyotes that target almost exclusively women and girls. She and her best friend Valeria are taken in by the Victorias, a group of warrior women that defend the City of Lost Girls from the murderous beasts. They train the two girls to become the assassins Red and Eyepatch. The leader of the Victorias, Duchess, has taken particular interest in Red (Analia). She wants to make her the new champion, although Red isn’t so sure she wants to. On their trail is Detective Frank Coffey, a newbie cop from another town trying to understand just what the hell is going on? In issues #2-#3 Red teams up with Coffey to discover the secret behind the murder of her sister, which lead into a deeper discovery of the war between the Victorias and the Coyotes. High tensions are about to peak, and Red’ strange, violent journey will only become more so.
Caitlin Yarsky’s art continues to shine with its wavy, Gothic Nouveau style. Characters are extremely animated with hair and limbs in constant motion. They have noticeable muscles, fat, sag, and wrinkles. These are real bodies in motion. The costume designs, particularly the Victorias, look just as vibrant. The natural vibrancy of Yarksy’s art adds to the Coyotes as well. When they attack, the pack comes in like a wave, single file. It adds surrealism to bombastic action scenes. A large chunk of what makes these scenes work are the panel layouts: intricate yet easily guiding the eye along, giving space for action and movement to breathe instead of feeling cluttered. An improvement over issue #1 is setting. Environments have a lot more personality than they previously did, feeling like unique places instead of the most basic cultural hints of Latin American culture. The best example is the house of one of the older Victorias, Abuela. She lives in a cabin on top of a spiral mountain. The height denotes power and mystery; but the conditions of her living quarters denotes, not humility, but Abuela’s desire for isolation. She is a powerful woman that also happens to be an anti-social crone. There is something inspiring in this contrarianism.
Sean Lewis continues to deliver an action-packed story while putting more layers on the cake. Three new Victorias are introduced, the old woman Abuela and two others yet to be named. They are as strong, foul-mouthed, deadly, and complex as their younger counterparts. When Red meets Abuela, she learns a secret about her dead sister Maria. It better clarifies the mystery behind Duchess. Her relationship with Red still has an element of unevenness to it, and Duchess is not fully beyond suspicion in terms of her real plans for the young assassin, but it does complicate it. No one among the Victorias is a perfect person, which is a good thing. This comic is about complicated, broken women fighting a common enemy. They do not get along and have their own personal goals, but they will unite when push comes to shove. It is gratifying group drama, particularly in a media landscape where women teams are usually not given moral grayness.
Another intriguing story element Sean Lewis expands upon is the origin of the war between Victorias and Coyotes. Not to give away too many spoilers, but it starts after an apocalyptic event. Two powerful entities go up against each other: Seff, a gigantic member of the canine family; His opponent is a fresh take on one of the entities representing Mother Nature. Some of the origin elements are a bit absurd, which says something for a story about women and girls fighting talking coyotes. It’s not a deal breaker though, and in fact adds to the mythic tone of the series. It also builds on the story’s feminist theme, suggesting how the fight between women’s freedom and agency against patriarchy has been a long, almost mythical battle.
However, the origin does have one huge blunder. Again, no spoilers, but it involves an evil corporation. This is an unsatisfying twist. First, evil corporations are such a lazy trope. Usually, there is not even a good reason for them being evil, or at least nothing about corporate culture is fully explored to show just how evil it is. Nope. Just call a group a corporation and Bam! they are considered evil. In fact, the two prominent figures of the corporation are so cartoonishly evil they might as well be twirling mustaches. In Coyotes’ defense, the series does have an over-the-top, Tarantinoesque tone to it, particularly the dialogue. Everyone sounds like a badass. Coyotes does set itself up for this tone early on in the story, and considering some of the absurdist things Caitlin Yarksy draws (Abuela at one point uses a scifish rocket launcher) perhaps makes the over-the-top corporate villainy fitting.
The real blunder of the evil corporation twist is that it makes the Coyotes too much of a concrete threat. What’s most horrifying is not what you know, but what you don’t know. If we have knowledge about why something terrible happened or why someone is terrible, then we can formulate a reason. A reason provides comfort for even when you don’t stop the horrible event or people. To have no reason, to never truly understand why evil exists, is much more terrifying. Being vague as to why men are suddenly wearing pelts to turn into coyotes to prey on women would have been fine. Much like a fable, the comic’s narrative worked on a visceral level where the reader doesn’t comprehend everything, but knows somewhere in their gut that it speaks truth. Ironically, the reason could’ve been summarized by a line Seff tells the corporation: “It is simply who you are. You will always kill what you can get away with.” If coyotes represent patriarchy, toxic masculinity, and male privilege, men choosing to become them symbolizes how these concepts are so ingrained in their heads they think it’s normal. There doesn’t need to be a reason beyond that. Evil corporations are just too grounded and scientific an explanation to match the mythic subject matter of Lycanthropy. In my opinion, horror is most effective when–in true Lovecraft fashion–science and reason fail when faced with great, incomprehensible monstrosity.
To the corporation’s credit, it does add its own thematic significance to Coyotes’ feminist narrative. Tying corporate greed to patriarchy suggests how it is a manufactured idea, one to maintain a power structure of men over women, even to the point that women must suffer. Men suffer too, of course, something the book does explore. It will be interesting to see how later issues may break the evil corporation angle out of its generic shackles.
One last observation is the character of Detective Frank Coffey. In my interview with the creators, Sean Lewis explained how he wanted a Frank Miller type character that would be useless. In this regard, he has definitely succeeded. Frank Coffey is your typical no-nonsense cop with a chip on his shoulder. He smokes a lot and talks like a good ol’ macho man. However, he is always fumbling in his encounters with the Victorias and the Coyotes. If he’s not getting his butt whooped, he is being outperformed by them, especially Red. However, to Coffey’s credit, his narrative has a satisfying angle of becoming a better ally. That doesn’t mean he unlearns his toxic masculinity, at least not yet. But Coffey seems to be naturally inclined toward helping people. Even though he doesn’t fully understand the Victorias, he has enough common sense to realize that they are the only ones capable of facing the Coyotes head on. Like so many characters, Coffey defies expectations. He is as complicated as anyone else.
Coyotes #2-#3 are fantastic follow-ups to the debut issue. It contains the same action-packed, engaging plot coupled with dark and vibrant art, while adding layers: some great, others mixed. Personally, what keeps me reading the series is how much I feel invested in the characters. They are some of the most complicated, multi-layered I’ve read since Lewis’ previous book, The Few. It’s them more than any other aspect of the plot that explores the larger themes of feminism and patriarchy. Through a human perspective, they show how hard, frustrating, and yet necessary these discussions are to dismantle harmful power structures. Plus, teen girls with katanas get to slay werewolves. That’s a good enough reason to stick around.
Story: Sean Lewis Art: Caitlin Yarsky Published: Image Comics
Story: 8.0 Art: 10 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy
Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with FREE copies for review